View from the Foothills of France

Some personal views on living, working,
bringing up family and making the dream happen in the most beautiful region of France. View from the Foothills of France also includes some personal and professional thoughts and tips on finding and buying the perfect property in the Ariège and Haute Garonne regions.



A French-style Christmas

I love the fact that every European country has its own Christmas traditions and, having lived in France now for almost 20 years, we tend to have a hybrid Christmas adopting and adapting our favourite traditions from the UK and France and throwing in a few of our own as well.

Christmas in France is quite low-key (compared to the UK and the US) and, unsurprisingly, is centred around food and drink shared with family. Each region has its specialities but nearly everywhere, seafood plays a large part, particularly oysters, smoked salmon, and scallops. For the main course, although turkey has become popular for the Christmas meal, many families still enjoy the more traditional chapon (castrated chicken!) Pudding is usually a Bûche de Noël in one of its many guises and, of course, the traditional coupe de champagne (or some sort of sparkling like the Cremant de Limoux from this part of the world) is almost always served. Vin chaud is also very popular during the run up to Christmas, especially at the Christmas markets, on café terraces and in the ski resorts.

The Christmas meal in France takes place on the 24th of December, which is known as the Réveillon de Noël and the eating and drinking goes on for many hours. And instead of hanging stockings by the fireplace for Père Noël, the children leave slippers, often with a small gift of food inside. Father Christmas will always reply to any letter in France; you just address your envelope to Père Noël making sure to give your address and he will reply (this French Father Christmas lives in Libourne, near Bordeaux).

Surprisingly for a Catholic country, church attendance is not widespread at Christmas but there is a big emphasis in every commune on the Crèche which, as well as the usual suspects, also features santons (wooden figures) representing the local population. So often there will be a postman and a butcher, some farmers, and peasants and, in our part of the world rather controversially, often a bear (they used to be indigenous in the Pyrénées and have been reintroduced against the wishes of many local farmers). You won’t see Jesus himself until after midnight on the 24th because he is placed ceremonially in the crib in time for midnight mass.

The Boxing Day bank holiday doesn’t exist in France, so it is straight back to work on the 26th for most people; one tradition that we have not adopted! Usually it is warm and sunny in our part of France over Christmas and New Year (we nearly always have our Christmas apèro outside on the terrace) so we head off for a walk in foothills or up to the mountains if we want to find some snow.

Christmas officially comes to an end at Epiphany (6th January) which celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings. This is recognized by the serving of the Galette de Roi (cake of the kings), typically made of pastry and marzipan and which includes a fève (literally a bean but, nowadays, a charm or figurine) that one lucky recipient will find in their slice (hopefully before they break their teeth on it) and will be crowned king or queen for the day.

However, you celebrate Christmas, I wish you a very bonnes fêtes and I look forward to helping you with your French property search in 2023:

The French Property Market in 2023 – is now a good time to buy?

Global Situation

I think we can probably agree that the news is not overly positive anywhere right now; the war in Ukraine, the threat of a global recession, the energy crisis, and inflation, in turn leading to a large hike in the cost of living, all underpinned by the supressed panic most of us feel about climate change. It is a lot. And it looks likely that the next few months will continue to be turbulent on the political and social front. Hence, I am getting a lot of questions right now about if and how this is being reflected in the French property market and whether it is a good time to buy a French house.

Impact on French Property

There is no doubt that all of this impacts the property market in some way. Firstly, banks have raised mortgage rates as interest rates have risen. In addition, they have tightened their lending criteria making it harder to get mortgages. Property prices have also been on an upward trajectory for a long-time, meaning that French property is no longer cheap and, in some regions, even unaffordable. Demand for houses has also been high since Covid, particularly for country properties which means that there are very few good houses for sale right now. The continuing uncertainty in the world also means that many potential sellers are deciding to stay put and, I imagine, some buyers will also delay plans to move. In addition, buyers’ requirements and priorities have changed since Covid, again putting pressure on supply. Finally, but importantly, the growing awareness of the impacts of climate change (drought, heatwaves, wildfires etc) is beginning to change buyer behaviour.

Current situation of the French Property Market

You would assume that all of this would, in turn, have led to a calming of the French property market, with demand and prices levelling off. But this is not yet the case according to the Notaires de France latest index published in early September. Since the start of 2021, house prices in the countryside have increased +9.0% over one year in the second quarter. This increase in prices is now slowing but, according to the latest report by Meilleurs Agents, the French real estate market is still resisting and even recorded a slight increase in prices at the national level (+0.3 percent in one month) still with rural areas showing the greatest increase

Sales volumes follow the same trend with 1,157,000 transactions over 12 months, remaining at a very high level but starting to slow down after record sales in 2021. This increase has been driven by the desire for rural living since COVID and lockdowns.

Outlook for the French Property Market in 2023

In terms of the outlook for the French property market, although the latest Notaires de France figures show that volume of sales are still extremely high, the number of sales has fallen since last year and, although property prices continue to rise, the Notaires’ report warns of a slowdown in the market in the coming months, linked to inflation and the fact that “The supply of properties for sale is slowly dwindling, making it difficult to maintain such high [sales] volumes.”

Currency exchange also effects the market in terms of foreign buyers but whilst Sterling has fallen, so has the Euro which means affordability has not changed very much for British buyers. For Americans, on the other hand, the USD/Euro rate is now at parity, something we have not seen for 20 years, making French houses look very cheap so there is certainly a surge in Americans looking to buy property in France which is keeping the market buoyant.

Hence, despite all the current obvious impacts, the French property market, (thus far), remains busy and the outlook positive. While it looks likely that prices will increase more slowly next year, there is no indication that they will fall or that the market will stall.

Which is a very long way of saying that the French property market remains its usual stable, boring self which can only be a good thing. It seems that, whatever else is going on in the world, it is always a good time to buy a house in France.

If you need help with your property search, please get in touch:

Things to consider when retiring to France

France is still the retirement dream for many people and although Brexit has made it a little more difficult and marginally more expensive to move to France in retirement, it is by no means impossible.

Despite Brexit, the French government has a lower requirement for income than most other European countries. Moreover, UK pension rights were retained in the Withdrawal Agreement which means that even after Brexit, a British retiree can carry on receiving their British state pension which will continue to increase each year in line with the rate paid in the UK. In addition, British state pensions and private pensions can still be paid into EU bank accounts.

Be aware, however, that any private pension lump sum payable on retirement is taxable in France unlike in the UK where the first 25% is tax free. In addition, Brits applying for a retirement long-stay visa to France are required to prove that they have income or funds equivalent to the French minimum wage which, in 2022, is €19,237 a year before deductions for tax and social contributions; equivalent to a monthly net income of €1,266. This applies to individuals, or couples and the income can be from any “resource”, which includes any type of accessible capital.

Most British pensioners pay tax in the UK, but you should still make an annual tax declaration in France and declare your pension income. Under the double taxation agreement between the two countries, you will not be charged twice, and the French taxman will assess your tax liability accordingly.

Although straight-forward, it is always worth taking financial advice when retiring to France just as it is when searching for the right property.

If you would like help with your move to France, please get in touch:

How to trust your instincts when searching for a French property

The internet has in many ways proved a boon for house hunters in France making it possible to browse numerous listings and arrange viewings from the comfort of home instead of trailing around numerous estate agents in different towns and departments to view wholly unsuitable properties.

The downside, however, is that there is now so much information available out there that it can be frightening. Every possible pitfall is outlined in all its detail and every disaster that might befall you when buying a house shows up during any search about French property. So much so that I know buyers who have abandoned their dreams of a home in France completely because of fear that there might be something wrong with the house or the location or the neighbours……

The list is endless and there are, of course, numerous potential problems and difficulties, just as there are buying a house anywhere, or making any important decision in fact.

But then fear of something going wrong sucks the joy out of every opportunity; sometimes we just have to make the leap – or not leap at all and most likely regret it. When it comes to buying a house in France, it is the start of an adventure and of course there are risks, that’s why it is an adventure. But there is also so much to be gained and so much joy to be had. Daring to move out of our comfort zone is all about expanding our experiences so that life becomes bigger, more interesting, more colourful, more fulfilling.

I’m not advocating jumping first and looking afterwards of course. It is always worth doing your research and taking professional advice but don’t believe every story you read and remember that there is only so much you can research and so many boxes you can tick before you decide to take the plunge. It may be a cliché, but it is almost always true that we finish by regretting the things we didn’t do, not the things we did.

If you would like to discuss your property search, please get in touch: